Bruce Boudreau doesn’t seem to be able to help himself.
While the veteran head coach might be having one of his best seasons behind the bench by keeping the mercurial Minnesota Wild in the playoff race, Boudreau’s insistence on starting Devan Dubnyk in nearly every game has become a head-scratcher.
There is no question that the 32-year-old Dubnyk is the Wild’s top goaltender — that role was assured when he signed a $26 million, six-year deal before the 2015-16 season — but that doesn’t mean playing him in nearly every game is the smart move. Dubnyk goes through brilliant stretches and then will follow that by giving up goals you can’t believe got past him. This often seems to happen when too much is put on Dubnyk’s plate and the 6-foot-6, 224-pound goalie begins to wear down.
Dubnyk was lifted after giving up five goals on 15 shots in the Wild’s 7-4 loss on Monday at Philadelphia and replaced by backup Alex Stalock. Monday marked Dubnyk’s 16th start in 17 games. He left the net in Philadelphia having given up 10 goals in his last five periods.
“I think Duby’s just getting tired,” Boudreau told reporters Tuesday. “I’m going to have to (be mindful of his playing time). … He’s played an awful lot of hockey. Sometimes when that happens, you tire and you need to regroup.”
And play less.
As he has done before this season, Stalock got the start on Tuesday in a back-to-back situation for the Wild. He stopped 31 of 33 shots in the Wild’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Los Angeles Kings at Xcel Energy Center.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick singlehandedly stole a point for his team by making several spectacular saves and stopping 40 shots but Stalock also made several key stops as the Wild ended a two-game losing streak.
Stalock, 31, who is in his second full season with the Wild, is 6-4 in 13 games (nine starts) this season with a 2.67 goals-against average and .901 saves percentage. Dubnyk, who has been selected as the Wild’s All-Star representative, is 17-6-3 with a 2.71 goals against and .911 saves percentage in 37 games. He has started each of those games, a figure that ranks third in the NHL. He has faced 1,062 shots, the fifth most in the league.
There is no goalie controversy here but Boudreau has to know that Stalock needs to start more often in the Wild’s final 36 games. Stalock’s style might cause Boudreau to develop an ulcer but it can be effective.
Stalock loves to play the puck. Sometimes that can be a good thing and sometimes, well, … In Tuesday’s game Stalock came out to get the puck in the overtime, found a Kings player pressuring him and ended up dumping it behind his own goal. The problem was Stalock nearly put the puck in his own net as he frantically attempted to play it.
But there are other times when Stalock helps his defensemen tremendously by passing the puck up ice and in the 3-on-3 overtime format he essentially becomes a fourth skater.
During Boudreau’s first season behind the Wild bench, his backup goalie was Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper played in 18 games that season and posted a 3.13 goals against. The fact that Kuemper wasn’t reliable left Boudreau feeling as if he had no choice but to ride with Dubnyk.
Dubnyk started 65 games that season and only five fewer than that last season with Stalock behind him. Dubnyk will end this season having received the majority of the workload — that is already guaranteed — but if Boudreau wants to do the smart thing that workload will be decreased in the coming months.
Dubnyk might not embrace this decision, but he will benefit from it.